Recently, I’ve had the experience of feeling as though I’ve lucked out. For the moment, I feel gratitude for the ability to spend another day on this earth, with the people I love.
When news of Covid became more and more dire, I admit that I was frightened. The news was shocking and the numbers of potential death statistics initially scared the crap out of me. Watching an early press conference about it, I recall saying to my husband that I feared I’d know lots of people who pass away.
Sadly, for many people, that has been a reality. Overall, for the most part, the people closest to me have been spared. And if they’ve had Covid, it has not evolved into anything requiring hospitalization.
About a month ago, I knew of a professional acquaintance who had been hospitalized with Covid and had not been doing well. I did not know this person at all, but it saddened me that his health had been declining rapidly. I learned he had passed away while I was engaged in a rather mundane activity. We had taken our son to his first ice skating lesson and while we sat in the drive-through waiting for our order, I scrolled Facebook and saw the announcement. It made me sad to think of his friends and family, and especially his grandchildren who are very young.
That evening, as we were getting ready for bed, my husband said in passing about something, “Do you smell that?” And I said no. In that moment, something clicked and I began opening various shampoo and lotion bottles, inhaling deeply, and finding that I couldn’t smell. While I was not necessarily terrified, I planned to go for a Covid test first thing in the morning. I was not sick otherwise.
As someone who struggles with anxiety, the gears in my head began to turn and I thought of some things I should do quickly to prepare in case my health deteriorated quickly. Some certain boxes in my life are checked, in the event that I might lose my life. But not others. And I felt a little weirded out that I might need to communicate certain information to people in the event I would not make it.
Because the gears in my head often turn at a rapid pace, many things eventually flashed before me, including the reality that my mother was not much older than I am currently that she had cancer. Eventually, she would lose her life to it, but because I didn’t have the emotional maturity to talk with her about her fears, I have not heard first hand from a loved one what it’s like to know your life might end.
Fortunately for me, while my Covid test was positive, I was not particularly sick with it and continued working from home, quarantined with my family.
A week or later, someone I had been friends with in college posted on social media that he was hospitalized with Covid, but he seemed to be doing okay. Within a few days, his posts were concerning and he said that he did not want to die. Because he lived in another country and time zone, I saw a post the next morning that a trusted relative had taken over his social media and she had posted an update about how he was doing. And within a few hours, she announced he had passed away.
Because college for me was a couple of decades ago, and this friend was someone who had been more of a fun acquaintance-type Facebook friend, he and I had not spoken with each other for a very long time. But social media has a way of maintaining closeness even if we haven’t seen each other for years. Many people still exist at the proverbial office water cooler even if you haven’t worked with them in forever. This friend in particular is someone I could always count on to make a hilarious comment at seemingly the right moment in a thread of comments.
He passed away a couple of days before Easter and because I am a practicing Catholic, I thought of his passing through the course of our most holy weekend of the year. It also caused me to meditate on the fact that he and I are both in our late 40s, were both diagnosed with the same illness, and he died. And I didn’t. In a spiritual way, it felt as if my life had been spared. That I have been given more time. And what am I going to do with that time?
A few days after my friend’s death, I received a telephone call from a number I didn’t recognize so I let it go right to voicemail. The message said it was a colleague of my therapist. In that moment, I knew something was terribly wrong. I called her back at once and she told me that my therapist had suddenly passed away.
It was shocking to receive that telephone call. I felt compassion for the person who had been tasked to make, perhaps, over a dozen of these types of phone calls to all of my therapist’s clients. If you’ve ever been in long-term therapy, you might recognize the depth of this relationship and understand my difficulty making sense of this. On the one hand, I shared intimate information with this person, but on the other, I knew very little about him. I am also a therapist myself and understand the personal distance he must maintain from clients. But I knew he was married. Because my sessions took place in his home office before Covid, I knew he had a dog and that I could sometimes smell whatever he’d prepared for lunch.
His passing is felt by me as a loss because of the bond we shared with each other. He was also an instructor at a psychoanalytic institute where I take courses and I know how much he will be missed by his colleagues.
It stokes up fears of what might happen if I died. I have a husband and a preschool-age child. It makes me queasy to really lean into what it would be like for them to receive such news. Sadly, I do often have anxiety-riddled thoughts about losing my child or my spouse fairly regularly. I suffered greatly with postpartum anxiety after my son’s birth, tortured by elaborate scenarios of what might happen.
There are no satisfying answers to the “What would happen?” question in any situation. Because no one can ever know. And perhaps that is what can feel so gut-wrenching about these thoughts. It’s not as simple as “what if I burned our dinner tonight” because that has a rather easy and predictable solution. But these thoughts have no easy resolution.
Concerns about loss of life only have seemed to grow after I became a mother a few years ago, beginning during my pregnancy. We are responsible for the well-being of a child because they cannot take care of themselves. Often every ounce of our energy goes into making sure they are fed and warm and that their emotional needs are met.
Perhaps the only way through coping with the reality is to do the best we can to prepare for the inevitable, so as to reduce the burden of our being gone. That means putting the concrete things in place so that your partner and children are taken care of, but also having uncomfortable conversations about this thing that we fear the most.